September 3, 2020
In an era of heavy emphasis on technology-based jobs, it’s often surprising to see how degrees in other areas can pair very well with careers rooted in math or science.
Keri Bentley earned her degree as an English generalist from Shawnee State University, graduating in spring 2018. She entered a world where it seems only Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) make the headlines, and yet, two years later, she is on a path to a strong career in the financial world.
“My first year I took general courses and did well in English composition,” she explained. “I was pretty good at it, compared to others, and I was interested in writing. The further I got into it, the more that interest deepened.”
Keri was returning to school to make a better future for herself and her young son. She was working at a local bakery for minimum wage and wanted a more solid financial situation.
“I was never one of those people who had it laid out, what I was going to do, but as long as I was doing something helping people and it was intellectually stimulating, I was open to possibilities.”
With a growing fascination in English, writing and composition, Keri continued her part-time job at the bakery but also worked in SSU’s writing center tutoring students while completing her studies.
But was pursuing an English degree, without planning on being a teacher, the right path to a solid career?
“There is a huge misconception about English majors,” Keri said. “I can’t tell you how many times people think you’re going to be an educator if you’re studying English. The English Generalist degree was very focused on details. When I graduated and started at DESCO as a teller, I was just thankful to have a full-time job and great benefits.”
But her training in English paid off quickly, even in banking. The skills she learned in her English major have helped her in her current work.
“I moved up quickly in the first three months and then again a year later. They had an opening in compliance, so I went from teller to assistant compliance officer,” Keri explained. “The English Generalist degree is very detail-oriented and that helped. I applied and got it. After passing a probationary period and some additional work I am now the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) Compliance Officer.”
The BSA has become an important legal requirement for financial institutions to prevent money laundering and other illegal financial activities.
The English program at SSU opened doors Keri never anticipated. “The writing tutor position in the writing center went hand in hand with my studies and the program had a family dynamic. They were very accepting. The classes were smaller and largely discussion-based.”
Keri credits faculty members, including English Chair Jennifer Pauley and instructors Marc Scott and Jennifer Scott, for encouraging her and other students. “You get to know your fellow classmates and you get to know the professors in these courses.”
“You’ll find English and Humanities majors working in any field that requires verbal and written communication skills, problem-solving techniques, critical thinking, and collaboration,” English Department Chair Jennifer Pauley said. “Our graduates have gone on to pursue careers in government, library science, technical writing, and business.”
Pauley said perceptions about career possibilities for English majors are inaccurate.
“I meet so many students who have a passion for literature, writing, and languages, but they often shy away from English and Humanities as a major because they think there is no job waiting on them after graduation,” she said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Keri is now pursuing a higher degree in Risk Management through Texas A&M’s law school, taking data analytics and management-focused courses that align well with her background. For anyone possibly interested in a degree but not necessarily STEM, she has some advice.
“Don’t be one-track-minded in pursuit of a career,” Keri said. “Keep an open mind. Secondly, look at the skill sets any degree is going to afford you once you finish. Are you happy with this skill set and how it will work in different fields? Talk to people in the program, the professors and advisors.”
She also encourages taking a diverse set of courses at the beginning.
“Get a diverse experience. Take general education program courses first and get a taste of different fields. Have conversations with different instructors and ask what you’re going to be offered and what you can do with that degree once you’ve graduated.”
Finally, for non-traditional students in situations like Keri’s, she said the challenges are greater.
“You really have to persevere,” she said. “I can’t count how many obstacles I hit trying to finish. There were many times I wanted to quit. Nobody would’ve blamed me. It sounds cliché, but I did envision myself in my cap and gown getting my diploma. I kept saying this is what I want and I’m going to do it.”